Highlanders v Bulls
These two teams have the same amount of wins to their name, which makes this a difficult one to judge. The Highlanders snuck past a confident Rebels side last weekend, while the Bulls were downed by the Hurricanes’ expansive game. They dominated up front though, and I’d expect the same to happen this weekend. Do the Highlanders have enough behind the scrum to make up for it? Possibly, but I can see this one going the way of the visitors. Bulls by 5.
Reds v Brumbies
The Reds won in Canberra in the opening round, but since then it has been the Brumbies who have been more consistent. Last week they comfortably dispatched a faltering Blues side, but crucially kept them try-less for the first time this season – a testament to their defence. The Reds were downed at home by a rampant Force side, so will have something to prove to a disgruntled group of fans. That, allied with the psychological advantage of having beaten the visitors on the opening day of the season on their home patch, will be enough to get them the win. Reds by 3.
Chiefs v Rebels
The Chiefs will be frustrated with themselves. Yes, they showed real grit and no little flair to haul back two seemingly unassailable leads in their last couple of games in South Africa, but they will be questioning why they allowed the opposition to build such leads in the first place. The Rebels came desperately close to doing something similar in Dunedin last weekend, and given that both these teams have a habit of finishing strongly the team leading into the final exchanges would be wise not to count their chickens. The defending champions have lost Aaron Cruden which is a huge blow, but back on their own patch, they surely have too much quality for the visitors. Chiefs by 15.
Force v Waratahs
A few weeks back this looked like a no brainer, but after the Force’s quite astonishing run of four wins on the bounce it is actually one of the most difficult picks of the weekend. They have stunned many a bigger name, including the reigning champions, in recent weeks, so the Waratahs will arrive knowing they won’t be facing the same team they pummelled in round two. Last week they cantered to victory over the Stormers without Israel Folau, but with injuries in the back three they will hope he returns this weekend. It will be much, much tighter than that exchange earlier in the season, but I’d still expect the visitors to continue their good form and win this one. Waratahs by 7.
Cheetahs v Crusaders
Both of these sides had been enduring woeful seasons before last weekend, when they both seemed to wake up. The Cheetahs will be livid with themselves for letting such a huge margin of victory slip against the Chiefs, but still showed more in attack than they had at any stage previously this year. The Crusaders dispatched the Lions in what was certainly a potential banana skin for them, especially given their awful form going into the game. If they can play like they did last weekend this time around, they should be too good for the competition’s leakiest defence. Crusaders by 5.
Lions v Sharks
The Lions ran out of steam somewhat in the last round, going down to the previously uninspiring Crusaders. The Sharks come into this one fresh off a bye, but given the hosts’ impressive season to date they will not be taking anything for granted as they enter the imposing Ellis Park. They were lacklustre against the Saders and if they play like that again they will be in trouble against a Sharks side that have been scoring for fun under the tutelage of Jake White. They will be better than last week no doubt, but is that good enough to beat the log leaders? Probably not. Sharks by 10.
By Jamie Hosie
Follow Jamie on Twitter: @jhosie43